Beyond the punk turtle: eight endangered animals that look surreal | Hannah Jane Parksinson | Opinion

There was a strong reaction to news that a green-haired turtle that breathes through its genitals – also known as the Mary turtle, native to an Australian river – had been added to a list of the world’s most endangered reptiles. The Guardian article on the punk-looking turtle has been shared tens of thousands of times.

Interestingly, a new study suggests that because “charismatic” species (such as panda and tiger) are so visible in pop culture, the public doesn’t appreciate how endangered they are. So here are some lesser-known eccentric endangered species which deserve their moment in the spotlight. Remember: leave them alone, and do not try to buy them online as pets. And maybe consider donating to a conservation charity, too.

Aye-aye

712 - Beyond the punk turtle: eight endangered animals that look surreal | Hannah Jane Parksinson | Opinion



The Finger. Photograph: YouTube

As well as a someone awkwardly hitting on you in a bar, “aye-aye” is also a freakish-looking animal – with the creepiest fingers of all time. Its middle finger, in particular. We’re talking an ET finger, but longer. Not only that, but the aye-aye’s teeth grow in perpetuity. A species of lemur, the aye-aye is nocturnal, spooky (lemur is Latin for “spirits of the dead”), and has a similar way of finding food to the woodpecker: poking into trees to source grubs (but with the long finger, not a beak).

I would recommend this YouTube film, which opens with the following narration: “Much like the pug, the aye-aye walks the delicate tightrope between radically ugly and cute as hell. The aye-aye resembles a cat that was bitten by a vampire and then halfway through the transformation just said ‘screw it’.”

Yangtze finless porpoise

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A happy finless porpoise. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

It’s really sad that the Yangtze finless porpoise is endangered, because it always looks so happy, with both a sweet closed and open-mouthed smile. This type of finless porpoise, found on the Yangtze river, is a cousin of the baiji dolphin, which in 2006 became the first dolphin species to be entirely wiped out by human activity. It is estimated there are up to just 1,800 Yangtze finless porpoises left in the wild.

Penis snake

712 - Beyond the punk turtle: eight endangered animals that look surreal | Hannah Jane Parksinson | Opinion



Penis-y snake. Photograph: YouTube

Yup. I am afraid you read that right. And for those sniggering at the back, the penis snake is a real limbless amphibian (it is not actually a snake, strictly speaking) which is found in the Madeira river, a tributary of the Amazon. Apart from, well, looking like a penis, the snake is also unusual in that it has no lungs. Though initially discovered in the late 1800s, the penis snake lay low, until it was rediscovered in 2011. It’s proper name is atretochoana, but that is less fun.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey

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A snub-nosed monkey just chilling. Photograph: Xinhua / Barcroft Images

Honestly, I feel like naming a species “snub-nosed” is rude. And perhaps dying out is a form of protest by the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. The monkey is black and white and has puffy lips and blue patches around the eyes, so it sort of looks hungover. In the 1990s, it was thought that the monkey had died out, but a small population was then discovered in Vietnam. The species remains under threat from both poaching and habit loss from encroaching human activity. It is listed as critically endangered with an estimated population of just 200.

Pig-nosed turtle

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The endangered pig-nosed turtle. Photograph: BBC/Adam White/BBC NHU

GUYS. If we keep insulting species can we blame them for not wanting to live? Coming off as just as offensive as “snub-nosed”, “pig-nosed” is part of this northern Australian turtle’s official name. Some kinder folks however refer to it as the fly river turtle instead, but it can’t be denied that it sports a bonafide snout. Little is known about the pig-nosed turtle’s behaviour in the wild, because it is so rare. But it is known to be extremely aggressive in captivity. Unfortunately, the pig-nosed turtle has become part of the exotic pet trade, and in 2013 almost 700 of them were seized at an airport bound for the black market in Hong Kong.

Saola

Pretty much all you need to know about the saola (pronounced sow-la), is that it is known as “the Asian unicorn”. Although the saola in fact has two parallel horns, so … that nickname doesn’t make a lot of sense, but never mind. The saola was only discovered in 1992, and there have only been four confirmed sightings since, despite its dashing white markings. Saolas are found (or as seems to be the case, not found) in just one location: the Annamite mountains of Vietnam and Laos. Given the current global political climate, they’re probably better off out of it.

Largetooth sawfish

600 - Beyond the punk turtle: eight endangered animals that look surreal | Hannah Jane Parksinson | Opinion

The largetooth sawfish, looking particularly saw-like. Photograph: James Cook University/AAP/PR IMAGE

A quarter of all sharks and rays are endangered, and unfortunately the largetooth sawfish falls into this category. It can grow to 6 metres in length, making it one of the biggest fish, and it is adaptable to many habitats, moving from estuaries to creeks and billabongs over the course of a lifetime. As for the name, well, it is a sort of Ronseal name – because its rostrum (the proper name for the snout) looks like a saw. This also means it is easily caught in nets, which has contributed to its peril.

Leaping lesbian lizard

708 - Beyond the punk turtle: eight endangered animals that look surreal | Hannah Jane Parksinson | Opinion



Sappho with scales. Photograph: YouTube

The impressively alliterative “leaping lesbian lizard” (or to give its proper name, the New Mexico whiptail), is a female-only species which reproduces asexually by a process known as parthenogenesis. This means that embryos can be formed even when eggs are unfertilised. Essentially, any offspring are clones of the mother. New Mexico whiptails still engage in sexual activity with each other, however, hence the lesbian label. Technically, the leaping lesbian wizard is not endangered, but it is found in just New Mexico and Arizona. So, it’s rare, and you know, that’s good enough for us when it is called the leaping lesbian lizard.